The Man Behind the Magic
Holding the record for career Academy
Awards nominations (sixty-four), as well as having
thirty-two personal Academy Awards, seven Emmys, and,
along with his staff, more than 950 honors and citations
from every nation in the world, Walt Disney is widely
regarded as one of the most brilliant and imaginative
men of the 20th century.
Walter Elias Disney was born in
Chicago, Illinois, on December 5, 1901. His parents,
Elias Disney and Flora Call Disney, moved him, his three
brothers, and his sister to Marceline, Missouri. Disney
would spend his childhood there, cultivating his love of
art. At the age of seven, he would sell artwork to his
neighbors for spending money. At sixteen he went to
enlist in the army. Being underage, he was rejected, but
served as an ambulance driver in France, his ambulance
covered in cartoons and sketches. When he returned, he
went to Kansas City to begin a career as an advertising
cartoonist. In 1920, he created his first animated
cartoons, and perfected a new method that combined
animation with live action.
In August of 1923, Disney left
Kansas City. With $40 in his pocket, a few drawing
materials, and a completed animated and live-action
film, Disney headed for Hollywood. His brother, Roy O.
Disney, was already in California. Together, they made a
camera stand in their uncle's garage, and soon an order
came in from New York for the first "Alice Comedy." The
two brothers began to use the rear of a Hollywood real
estate office several blocks away for their productions.
On July 13, 1925, Disney married Lillian Bounds, one of
his first employees, in Lewiston, Idaho. They had two
daughters, Sharon and Diane.
Mickey Mouse was created in
1928 for the silent film Plane Crazy. That same
year he starred in Steamboat Willie, with
Disney’s own voice for Mickey. The short film gained
instant fame and initiated the concept of making a
separate cartoon for each animated movement. It was
Disney’s first film using sound- in fact, it was the
world’s first fully synchronized sound cartoon. In 1938,
Disney produced his first feature-length cartoon, which
took three years to complete: Snow White and the
Seven Dwarfs. The production cost an unprecedented
$1,499,000, during the Depression, and earned Disney an
Oscar- with seven miniatures of the statue to go with
In the five years following
Snow White, Disney produced other full-length films
such as Fantasia, Dumbo, Pinocchio,
and Bambi. In 1945, Disney produced the musical
The Three Caballeros, which used animation and
live action. He used this technique in Mary Poppins,
as well as Songs of the South and other features.
In his lifetime, Disney’s studio released 81 films.
Disneyland, located in Anaheim,
California, was launched in 1955 and would entertain
hundreds of millions of people- including kings, queens,
other royalty, and presidents from across the world. And
later, entirely in secret, Disney directed the purchase
of 43 square miles of land in Florida. Twice the size of
Manhattan Island, this would be the home of several
theme parks, resorts, and more.
In 1966, Disney was diagnosed
with smoking-related lung cancer. He passed away on
December 15, days after he turned 65. A popular urban
legend states that he was cryogenically frozen under
Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride. In
reality, he was cremated and laid to rest at the Forest
Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. His brother
Roy O. Disney took over the company, insisting that the
Florida project be renamed Walt Disney World in his
brother’s honor. After his death due to a stroke at the
age of 78, in December, 1971, a statue of him seated on
a park bench beside Minnie Mouse was placed in Town
Square at the Magic Kingdom.
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